Coral colonies of hope: Gili Lankanfushi leads in coral preservation

At Gili Lankanfushi, a special Coral lines Project has been initiated to recover coral reefs. By growing small fragments of coral on hanging ropes (lines) and then transplanting them to the house reef near One Palm Island, the resort hopes to see regeneration and aim to kick start the health of the house reef.

The Coral Lines Project started three years ago and currently holds around 7484 coral colonies. Small fragments of coral are constantly being added to the already growing population on 153 lines.

The vulnerable nature of coral populations mean that they undergo cycles of disturbance and recovery. Gili Lankanfushi’s house reef was affected by warmer waters created by the El Nino event in 2016 which bleached much of the corals. Yet, against all odds, most fragments in the coral lines nursery survived.  They have also been faced with a Crown of Thorns (coral predators) outbreak this year and have still remained intact. In some cases, corals in the lines are no longer present on shallow reefs in the area.

“Now, is the perfect time to begin stage two of the coral restoration project by moving coral from the nursery to the house reef. Transplanting coral is a delicate procedure with a lot of trial and error,” a blogpost post by Gili Lankanfushi’s marine team read.

Josie beginning the process. PHOTO/ GILI LANKANFUSHI

They began slowly by creating a test site with a small number of coral colonies to ensure healthy corals would not be lost unnecessarily. A site with conditions not too dissimilar to the nursery was identified. The area had to be flat and solid, with no loose material and space for growth. It also had to be an area that is easily accessible for monitoring, but nowhere in danger of tampering or accidental damage.

The team chose a depth of eight metres in the middle of house reef drop off where they regularly snorkel. Another major concern was the Crown of Thorns Starfish; so the corals were placed in an area visited regularly by Harvey, the Ocean Paradise Dive Centre manager, who has been removing these starfish from the reef for months.

The next step, according to the team, was to cut the colonies from the lines in the nursery, and transport them in mesh bags in the water. They decided to use three different Acropora species to begin with as they are fast growing and like a lot of light and a moderate current.

Clare cutting the coral from the line. PHOTO/ GILI LANKANFUSHI

Once at the site, the area of algae was cleaned and the coral attached to ensure protection from extreme water movement. The team placed the coral an equal distance apart to allow quick growth and attached the coral using epoxy, which is a clay like cement. They were aware from previous studies that Miliput (epoxy clay) kills the part of the coral it is attached to; so small amounts of putty were placed at the base of the coral.

Once a week, for a total of six weeks, the marine team will measure growth and survivorship of the coral. They hope to replicate the test at different depths and locations to find a suitable site to start a larger restoration project. But major transplantation works will be put on hold until after the monsoon season.

“Due to the fragility of coral species, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period. We expect to adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef,” the post read.

“Previous restoration plans have been hindered by external threats, so we are so excited to finally begin this project. We will be producing scientific data along the way which we hope will contribute to current coral reef rehabilitation knowledge.”

Attaching the colonies using epoxy. PHOTO/ GILI LANKANFUSHI

Despite the transplants working well so far, the marine team says they still have many question to answer in the future. Are the corals on the house reef still reproducing? As these corals survived the last bleaching, will they be more genetically suited to future hostile conditions?

“The answers to these questions are all just a work in progress and we will have to keep on watching and learning as we replant and monitor these corals over the next few years. As our house reef sustained a lot of mortality and the coral cover is low, we hope that this new project will help to rejuvenate the reef and raise awareness,” the team concluded their post.

Meanwhile, Gili Lankanfushi is gearing up for the opening of its long awaited Marine Biology Centre, with a new marine biologist joining the island resort. Its resident Marine Biologist and Environmental Officer Deborah Burn and her assistant Josie Chandler will be replaced by Clare Baranowski, who will start her term by opening the long awaited Marine Biology Centre on World Oceans Day, which falls on June 8.

Set on the private island of Lankanfushi in the North Male Atoll, Gili Lankanfushi Maldives is an intimate coral island in a sparkling lagoon, with jetties threading across the water out to spacious villa accommodations, where ultimate privacy can be found. This luxury resort is just a 20-minute speedboat ride from the main Velana International Airport.

At Gili Lankanfushi, an idyllic personal hideaway is one of 45 spacious, rustic overwater villas crafted from natural wood and glass. A palette of sparkling blues paints the horizon, the ocean stretching to infinity wherever on the island. The open design, with indoor and outdoor living space, allows guests the freedom to be themselves, the sound of the sea and warm breeze soothing all senses.

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